Onward and heavenward
A friendly interview question to ask a band is how long they’ve been on the road for – it usually leads to jokes about tour vans, stories about leaving their apartments unoccupied, and a list of cool places the band has played in recently.
Japandroids have been on tour for so long that it seemed more fitting to ask how much time they haven’t spent on the road.
Since last fall, the band has played or been booked to play somewhere around 250 shows – which, for the record, includes dates in cool places like Russia, Mexico, and Costa Rica. That hectic globetrotting schedule makes downtime hard to come by.
“We had a pretty decent break in August, which was the first break we’ve really had for longer than a week or so,” drummer David Prowse noted. “We had almost all of August off, which was kind of weird.”
For Japandroids, however, taking a break doesn’t mean lying dormant. Instead, Prowse and guitarist Brian King holed up in a studio in their hometown of Vancouver and cut the two tracks that make up their latest release, a seven-inch record with the newly-recorded “Heavenward Grand Prix” and a cover of PJ Harvey’s “Shame” as the A- and B-sides, respectively.
The former track is a mild departure from the noisy garage rock that defined their full-length debut, last year’s Post-Nothing. Unlike the powerhouse guitar chords that made up their full-length’s numerous anthems, the mid-tempo dance beat of “Heavenward Grand Prix” seems to be the track’s main instrument, standing out against unintelligible guitars that have been fuzzed out to Threat Level Shoegaze.
It’s hard to figure where the song would fit on Post-Nothing, especially considering that it was actually written around the same time as that record’s songs, along with the other four songs that will have appeared as limited-run seven-inch singles by the end of the year. For the band, however, it’s less about the band’s canon and more about simply getting more music to the people who want it.
“It was kind of a way of releasing more material without having to really stop touring,” Prowse explained. “Whenever we’ve been home for any length of time in the last while, we’ve just gotten in the studio for a few days and tried to crank out another seven-inch.”
Something else about the seven-inch format that appeals to the band is that it lets them concentrate on putting out music without needing to sit down and focus on the needs of a full-length.
“Whenever we take a serious break from touring, that’s when we can put out a full length and actually take the time it takes to not just write that many songs but also write a batch of songs and put them together and choose songs that work as a cohesive unit,” Prowse said. “Whereas the seven-inch series is kind of, like, whenever you’re home and you have some idea in your head for a cover or an idea for bits and pieces of a song we’ve figured out how to do.
“It’s just something where we can be a little bit more weird with things and don’t have to necessarily think about whether that seven-inch fits with the last seven-inch we did or anything like that,” he continues. “That way, we can just kind of explore a bit more. Some of the stuff we’ve recorded but haven’t released yet is pretty different from anything we’ve ever done, and that’s kind of why the seven-inch series is so fun.”
It’s not unheard of for bands to do limited-run record series in between proper full-length releases; Olympia, WA-based orchestral pop band Parenthetical Girls’ new “album” is technically a series of 10-inch EPs, and Prowse mentions the late Jay Reatard’s prodigious seven-inch output as inspiration for the Japandroids’ own project. Such series are, however, still rare. Thankfully, Japandroids’ label, the venerable independent label Polyvinyl Records, wholeheartedly supported the idea of the seven-inch series.
“They were awesome,” Prowse said. “They’re awesome about everything. They’re great. They’re the perfect label … As soon as we suggested this idea, they were like, ‘Yep. Let’s do it.’”
It’s a nice change for a band who, according to the cover story Exclaim! wrote on them last year, were close to calling it quits just before Post-Nothing came out. Now, they’re playing festivals, touring with bands like The Walkman and Frog Eyes, the latter of whom Prowse expressed long-standing admiration for, and releasing music as often as they want to in whatever way they want.
“We’re lucky,” Prowse declared. “We’ve been really lucky in terms of having all these awesome people helping us and working with us.”
Luck is part of it, but so are ideas and dedication, and Japandroids seem to have all three in spades.
Japandroids are playing at the Distrikt on Saturday, Oct. 2 with Frog Eyes and P.S. I Love You. Doors open at 8 p.m. Tickets are $10 in advance, $15 at the door.